These next 25 minutes are the best part of my year as I get to brag about what each of you and so many others in this community helped us make possible over the past year. I am going to introduce you to a few folks who will make most of us envious. Their grit. Their determination. Their resilience. Their ability to stare crisis square in the eye and not back down. Their hard work. Their refusal to give up even when the odds are so stacked against them.
Each of these individuals personifies the success that comes when you work hard, take advantage of opportunities and get some good old-fashioned luck. They are our neighbors, they represent the diversity of our community, they defy prejudice, they make me proud and, once you meet them, they’ll make you proud, too.
Let me start by introducing Jody Peterson.
Betty Jean Wagner
Abbie and Eddie Dennis
Iris and Jesus Olivera
[Each of these individuals provided impressive testimony to the role we played in their lives. We were humbled.]
I want to call to your attention the business directories you will find on the table. They feature nearly 200 businesses that received some kind of assistance from us, whether it was entrepreneurial training, technical assistance, marketing assistance, help getting certification as a women- or minority-owned business or financing. Take some with you. You can make a difference in your community just by patronizing those businesses.
While I will never be able to look back at my life and feel that I made the difference I expected of myself, I must admit to having at least a little bit of pride in the breadth and depth of the reach of this agency. We don’t rest. We don’t waste a penny. We don’t pay our employees too much. Our administrative costs have consistently been around 9% of our budget. In short, we take our responsibility to be effective stewards of your contributions and tax dollars very seriously.
[The staff was asked to stand and accept our thanks for their outstanding work.]
What you can always count on Community Action to do is drive itself and this community to be better. I would defy anyone to identify an organization that more effectively identifies the challenges we face, brings them to the attention of those capable of confronting those challenges, and bugs them to do just that. In addition to providing the sheer volume of services we offer, we are constantly mobilizing the resources of this community to find a way to shelter those who are left behind from the storm of the marketplace which, in my judgment, may be more unforgiving than ever. Essentially, what we are doing is challenging ourselves as a community to create a better marketplace, one that works not just for the lucky few but for each and every one of us.
Right now, we have several new initiatives that we are developing and I’d like to tell you about them.
[I ran out the back door when the video you can see on our website at caclv.org started playing. I took those watching on a tour of several new projects from the Slate Belt to Bethlehem and Allentown, then returned to finish my comments.]
So, in any given year, while we’re distributing 9 million pounds of food, sheltering more than 100 families, helping dozens of people start their own businesses, helping hundreds buy their first homes, improving dozens of residential and commercial facades, physically enhancing neighborhoods, helping thousands pay their electric bills, weatherizing 1,100 homes, rehabbing houses for resale, repairing or replacing more than 300 furnaces, we are also mobilizing the projects I just showed you.
And even that is not all.
Tyrone Russell has a pretty cool job. He’s the coordinator of our campaign for racial and ethnic justice. Cool title, eh? Tyrone had to be out of town this week, but take a look at what he’s doing.
[A second video was shown.]
The frustration that keeps me so unsettled is that I just can’t feel like we’ve done enough. The stubbornness of poverty, despite the resilience of those locked in its grip, makes me restless. Too few of us are shouldering this burden. Each of you deserves our thanks, but too many are sitting this fight out.
Consequently, too many remain on the margins. And, those margins are likely to get more crowded, as Mother Nature’s wrath, made more potent by our own unwillingness to accept and respect the facts about climate change, is unleashed on our friends in the Caribbean, most notably, our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico. The island’s economy was already in shambles when the hurricanes mercilessly leveled untold devastation.
Will we as a community find ourselves forced to deal with the situation? Hell, yes. Have we learned anything about how to accommodate new peoples when we know they are coming? Will we apply what we know? That’s up to us, individually and collectively. We better start planning.
So, can I get you to join me in bugging people? Bug people to be more polite. Bug people to pay more attention to what’s going on in their community. Bug people to spend their money in our downtowns. Bug people to vote. Bug people to contribute more. Bug people to reinvest. Bug people to go out of their way to patronize a minority-owned or woman-owned business. Bug people to acknowledge how much their good fortune is just old-fashioned good luck and that, when someone fails, it was not because they were lazy. Bug people to listen more. Bug people to fight back when they’re trampled on. Bug people to stand up, brush themselves off, speak up.
Bug people to mobilize.
We are Americans, after all, and we are endowed with certain inalienable rights, among them, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; not just for some, but for all of us.